MARTINSVILLE, Va. - The difference between being the 25th-fastest driver in practice and the pole-winner driver in qualifying was a lot more than a turn of a wrench for Jeff Gordon.
It was an attitude.
Gordon and his Hendrick Motorsports crew relied on old notes and old-fashioned know-how in the 90 minutes that separated practice for the Virginia 500 from the real thing Friday at the Martinsville Speedway. And that was more than enough time for that team to make up a lot of ground.
His crew made many little changes to his DuPont Chevrolet Monte Carlo, and Gordon did the rest with his passion for short tracks.
"I like qualifying everywhere, but my background came from the short tracks," the former national champion of USAC Silver Crown, midgets and quarter-midget series said. "You're talking about hard braking. You can't just go wide open when you come off the corners, either, or you'll spin your tires. You've got to modulate it. This is what I grew up with."
Mired deep in the pack during practice, Gordon now has his second front-row starting position in as many weeks. His lap of 94.181 mph was just quick enough to bump Bobby Hamilton's lap of 94.092 mph to the outside pole.
"Drawing a late number (for the qualifying order) helps," Gordon said after going out among the final 10 cars. "I don't like going out early because I don't believe the track has a lot of heat in it yet. Robbie (Loomis, crew chief) made some good calls on the car, and it allowed me to carry a lot of speed in the center of the corner, and that set me up for a lot of speed down the straightaway. I tried to get as much momentum as I could (coming off the corners).
"The adjustments we made certainly weren't major. What I was doing was trying to get a spot in the top 10, top 15. I wasn't expecting this. I certainly didn't think all those changes would help that much."
Gordon, the defending NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion, now has two pole positions this year, and both have come at half-mile short tracks.
A week ago at the Texas Motor Speedway, Gordon was the fastest driver in practice, but he qualified 26th.
"Maybe this is how we'll do it from now on: we'll practice slow and qualify fast," he said.
Hamilton, also in a Chevrolet, said the fastest car probably finished third. Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran into the curb in the fourth turn, sending the car into a spin on his second of two qualifying laps. He managed to keep the car from hitting the wall, but what was likely to be his fastest lap was erased.
His first lap, considered a warm up, still was third fastest at 94.064 mph.
"It's a shame we couldn't get a second lap," Earnhardt said. "To run the speed we did on the first lap was pretty good, but the second lap was going to be better. I feel like we had a pole-sitting race car. I made a mistake. I got up on the curb between turns three and four. I didn't think the car would turn that good."
"I think if Dale Jr. hadn't hit the curb, he probably would have been on the pole because he's got the fastest car," Hamilton said.
Starting fourth in Sunday's race (1 p.m., FX) is Terry Labonte at 93.985 mph, followed by Rusty Wallace in fifth at 93.933, Bill Elliott in sixth at 93.910, Kevin Harvick in seventh at 93.812, Tony Stewart in eighth at 93.733, Jimmy Spencer in ninth at 93.724 and Ryan Newman in 10th at 93.701.
Current Winston Cup Series points leader Sterling Marlin qualified 29th at 93.084 mph.
A second-place finish last week at Texas added with Friday's pole position has given Gordon some much-needed momentum.
Although he's sixth in the point standings, he's only had one top-five finish this season.
"We've been running good but we haven't been finishing good," Gordon said. "That second-place finish at Texas definitely did a lot for the morale and momentum of this race team. That was evident today. I hope we can continue that the rest of the weekend and the rest of the season for that matter. We've had cars capable of winning races this year. We just haven't been able to put it all together."
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